My bio here at Moristotle & Co. is pretty scant. It’s a sketch really, lacking in detail. So here’s a detail; I was a college student for a long time, a really long time. Fourteen years by my reckoning. Over the course of that decade and a...and four-tenths, I changed my major twice, earned three degrees, enrolled in four schools, and attended five theatre festivals. That last bit is the subject of this month’s “Fourth Saturday.”
ACTF, American College Theatre Festival, conducted in cooperation with the Kennedy Center, is an annual event that happens in February in eight regions across the country. From 1994 to 2001 I participated in five Region VIII KC/ACTF festivals. What happened at those festivals will someday make a good novel...The one in Las Vegas may be worth a separate volume, but that’s all behind me now. I’m no longer a student. I’m a professor. And last week I attended my sixth theatre festival, this time as a professor, a chaperone in the city I called home for a quarter of a century, Los Angeles. So I got to be the one who knew something about where we were. I actually found myself to be useful. Showing students and colleagues alike how to ride the subway, where to get a really good french dip sandwich (Philippe’s on Alameda) and the intricacies of the Samuel French bookstore.
I’ve heard that at some point you stop taking and you start to give back, I suppose that’s where I am in this journey. I get to share now. I get to offer guidance, advice, the wisdom of my years and show off the scars left by my mistakes. But here’s the thing—you really do get back. Yes, I recall how fun it was to attend festivals, hang out, go to plays, workshops, rounds and rounds of acting competition, partying late into the night/early into the dawn—that’s no longer my role. I’m the observer, respondent, mentor. And the group of students I’m involved with are the best anywhere.
Putting aside the scowls that are sometimes caught at the Academy Awards, the people of theatre are the most generous losers you’ll ever find. The awards ceremony that capped the four-day event I attended was punctuated by roars, squeals, and shouts of joy. The winners were mostly silent, too dumbfounded to believe they were the one’s singled out as “the best.” It was their comrades in greasepaint who expressed the loudest pleasure. Odd that a culture so firmly tied to the liberal side of the political spectrum is one that embraces so strongly capitalism’s tenet that a piece of pie for someone else doesn’t make your slice smaller, it just means the pie is larger. A useful lesson for all of us. And I learned from watching these “students” the lesson of being grateful just to be there. That cliché, “it’s an honor just to be nominated...”...with the right frame of mind it’s true.
Copyright © 2013 by James Knudsen